RTÉ to launch free TV satellite service along with digital rollout

RTÉ is to launch a free TV satellite service next year in conjunction with its plans to provide Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) to replace existing analogue services which must be switched off by 2012.

RTÉ confirmed yesterday that it will launch its DTT multiplex a bundle of TV channels to be called Saorview — to the public from early next summer.

Around the same time it is expected that the national broadcaster will launch its Saorsat satellite service which will provide signals for the main domestic TV stations on a free-to-air, unencrypted basis.

DTT is set to replace the existing analogue TV signal — which provides channels like RTÉ, TV3 and TG4 on a free-to-air basis via rooftop aerials — when it is scheduled to be switched off in December 2012.

It will provide viewers with a free alternative to pay-TV options offered by providers of cable, MMD and satellite services for the main Irish TV stations.

The RTÉ multiplex will offer nine TV channels and 12 digital radio stations. It will include RTÉ 1, RTÉ 2, TV3, TG4, 3e and the RTÉ news channel, RTÉ News Now.

Another station will combine RTÉ children’s programmes with Euronews and RTÉ 1+1 — a catch-up channel. RTÉ also announced that it intends to launch a second multiplex by autumn 2013 which could include an Irish film channel and Oireachtas TV.

TV viewers who get coverage from analogue signals will be required to obtain either a set-top box to receive DTT or a satellite dish to receive free-to-air satellite services.

RTÉ sources said they expected most TV viewers would avail of the DTT option because the equipment required to receive TV signals is cheaper and picture quality is better. It is estimated that basic set-top boxes will cost a maximum price of €100 while satellite dishes typically cost in excess of €250.

Plans for the introduction of commercial digital TV suffered a major setback last April when the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland announced that none of the three consortia which had bid to operate three multiplex licences were prepared to launch a DTT service.

The development means many popular foreign stations like BBC, ITV and Channel 4 will not be available on the DTT platform — a situation which undermines the potential of DTT as a choice for TV viewers.

The BAI said it was reviewing the situation with the various bidders to see if they might be prepared to submit a fresh proposal to provide commercial DTT.

RTÉ’s chief financial officer, Conor Hayes told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications committee that RTÉ subsidiary, RTÉ Network Limited (RTÉNL) estimated the total cost of providing its DTT multiplex would be €70m, of which €40m had already been spent.

Mr Hayes highlighted the importance of RTÉ’s proposed DTT and satellite services as one-third of all TV sets and 25% all households were reliant on an analogue signal as the primary source of their TV reception. He pointed out that this figure rose to 50% along the western half of the country.

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